Over the past few days, Bashar al-Assad and his Russian and Iranian allies began an offensive to capture the city of Idlib and its environs—the last major stronghold of the rebellion that began in 2011. There is ample reason to believe that Assad’s forces will again use chemical weapons to cow the civilian populace into submission and, even if they choose not to, a high civilian death toll is all but inevitable. Considering the implications of the impending victory of America’s enemies, Noah Rothman writes:
Damascus was designated a state sponsor of terrorism in 1979, and it has lived up to that title every year since. Syria’s descent into civil war presented several opportunities to dispense with the despot in Damascus and avert a crisis in the process, but they were all ignored. [Instead], the results of the West’s overreliance on covert action, outsourcing, and diplomacy in Syria is arguably the worst-case scenario.
Some parties in the West with a political interest in isolationism deliberately confused terrorist groups [operating in Syria] with secularist movements led by Assad-regime defectors. In the years that followed, those moderate rebel factions were crushed or corrupted while Islamist terror networks, which provided a politically valuable contrast to the “civilized” regime in Damascus, were patronized and nurtured by Assad.
The incubation of terrorist organizations eventually necessitated the kind of American military intervention President Obama had so desperately sought to avoid, but at a time and place not of America’s choosing and with a footprint too small to achieve any permanent solution to the crisis. All the while, a great human tide poured out from Syria in all directions, but especially into Europe. There, an influx of unassimilated migrants eroded the continent’s postwar political consensus and catalyzed the rise of illiberal populist factions. . . .
The lessons of the Syrian civil war are clear: the U.S. cannot stay out of destabilizing conflicts in strategically valuable parts of the world, no matter how hard it tries. The humanitarian and political disasters that resulted from Western indifference to the Syrian plight is a grotesque crime that posterity will look upon with contempt. Finally, the failure to enforce prohibitions against chemical-weapons use on the battlefield has emboldened those who would use them recklessly. American soldiers will suffer the most in a world in which chemical warfare is the status quo of the battlefield of the future.